Can the Czechs, a team in transition, make a splash at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey? Here’s an early projection of their roster.
It’s fair to assume the Czechs would like a do-over on the 2014 Olympic roster. It stood out for a few odd roster decisions, opting for the likes of Petr Nedved over Radim Vrbata and Tomas Kaberle over Jan Hejda. It wasn’t a shock to see the Czechs head back to their respective club teams without medals.
The Czechs are a team in transition right now, like Finland is, slowly saying goodbye to aging legends and paving the way for the next crop. Will the new wave, including David Pastrnak, Jakub Vrana and Pavel Zacha, crack the 2016 World Cup team?
Here’s the last of my projected rosters. To answer a frequently asked question: the NHL and NHL Players’ Association expect a large majority of their own players to comprise the teams but have not excluded players from other leagues at this time.
I’ve liked this guy since his Ottawa 67’s/Czech world junior team days. He won the AHL’s Calder Cup with Grand Rapids two years ago, and he’s slowly worked his way up the Detroit Red Wings’ depth chart. He’s still just 22, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him start at the World Cup.
He played his way out of the starter’s role in Sochi and is thus unlikely to win No. 1 duty for the 2016 Czech squad. Pavelec still has the size and experience to earn himself a spot on the team, however.
He outplayed Pavelec at the Olympics, and he posts outstanding numbers year-in, year-out in the KHL. Now 28, he’s the favorite to start over Mrazek, even if I play a hunch that Mrazek beats Salak out.
On the bubble: Pavel Francouz, Jakub Kovar, Marek Mazanec, Michal Neuvrith
If Gudas can just stay healthy, he’s a nice addition to the Czech squad. He plays a scrappy, tenacious game on ‘D,’ throwing his body around with reckless abandon. Too bad it takes such a toll on his body.
He should’ve made the Sochi team. He’s more of top-four defenseman than the top-two role he plays in Colorado, but any blueliner good enough crack an NHL team’s top two has to make the Czech national squad. Come on.
I surprised myself with this pick. Originally I had Ladislav Smid making the team, but the ‘D’ corps needs variety. Without Kaberle, it lacks a real rushing defenseman to set up the power play.
He quietly played significant minutes for the Czechs in Sochi, he has 300-plus NHL games to his name and he’s been a solid two-way presence with Dinamo Minsk in the KHL for the past four seasons. If Kaberle doesn’t make the team as a puck-mover, Krajicek can be shoehorned into that role.
Almost every guy on this blueline is a carbon copy of the other. Michalek is another two-way type, decent at everything, who doesn’t make many mistakes.
Was a battle between Michael Barinka and Polak for the last spot, but I changed my pick to Polak after some consultation with Czech hockey writer Pavel Barta (who also sold me on Andrej Sustr over Jakub Kindl). Polak’s game is improving, and he has some nice snarl.
The young Lightning blueliner is an unknown tower at 6-foot-8 and moves the puck surprisingly well for his size. An intriguing sleeper.
He’ll be 39 when the 2016 World Cup arrives but, assuming he’s interested in suiting up, he fills an important role as the boomer on the power play.
On the bubble: Michael Barinka, Michal Jordan, Jakub Kindl, Jan Kolar, Dominik Masin, Ondrej Nemec, Michal Rozsival, Ladislav Smid
Didn’t work out in Calgary, to say the least, but he remains one of the KHL’s best all-around centers and has a place on this team.
So can we remove Frolik’s draft bust label now? Turns out he is a highly useful NHLer, just in a different role than originally expected when Florida drafted him. He has emerged as a stellar checking winger with the Winnipeg Jets.
The towering pivot can score in bunches and also works well in a checking role. Hanzal hasn’t discovered ideal consistency yet, though, despite reaching his prime at 27.
Don’t be surprised if Hertl recaptures his dazzling rookie form next season with the Sharks. He simply hasn’t been the same since a mid-season knee injury in 2013-14. His sniper potential remains sky-high, and he should start realizing it once he distances himself from his surgery.
The stout little fella quietly churns out points in a top-six role every year. He did it with Detroit, and he does it with Calgary.
The fiercely patriotic Jagr could use the 2016 tourney as his international swan song. We know he’ll show up in fantastic shape. And he’ll still be hard to knock off the puck when he’s 85 years old. If he decides not to play, I’d slide Jiri Sekac or Dmitrij Jaskin onto the team.
The skilled, experienced Krejci is one of several strong two-way pivots on this Czech team. He’s a logical choice to center the top line.
He never sustained the skill he flashed in his early seasons with San Jose. Still, Michalek is big, fast and can score goals in the right situatino.
The 2015 world juniors showed us how good Pastrnak can be, and the Boston Bruins couldn’t keep him in the AHL any longer. By next summer he could be a lock for the Czechs’ top six.
Palat looks poised for a fantastic NHL career. He was a Calder Trophy finalist as a rookie, and he’s emerged as one of the best two-way wingers in the league, making magic on a line with Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. He’s earned first-line consideration on the 2016 Czech team.
The underrated Plekanec can slide onto a scoring line if you need him to or kill penalties and win defensive zone faceoffs in a checking role. That’s an awfully handy guy to have.
Brings a physical edge along with sterling skill on the draw. The Czechs can toss him on the wing to crash and bang if need be, too.
Voracek will obviously be The Guy to carry this team’s offense. It’s been fun seeing him become the player so many scouts thought he’d be when Columbus drafted him seventh overall in 2007.
It was silly to leave him off the 2014 team. Let’s right that wrong. He fits nicely as a trigger man on a scoring line.
On the bubble: Patrik Elias, Martin Erat, Martin Havlat, Radek Faksa, Tomas Fleischmann, Ales Hemsky, Roman Horak, Dmitrij Jaskin, Jan Kovar, Jiri Novotny, Jiri Sekac, Jiri Tlusty, Jakub Vrana
PRELIMINARY DEPTH CHART
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin